Surrogacy became mainstream when in the 4th season of the popular sitcom, Friends, the ever-spacey Phoebe became the surrogate mother of her brother’s children, in the episode titled “The one with the embryos.” The episode’s writer noted this had never before been seen on television—the story arc was considered “risky” and writers were concerned that it was “too crazy … where’s the line with Phoebe?” It was a smash hit.
The narrative continued into the 5th season when in the hundredth episode of the show Phoebe gave birth to her own nephew and two nieces. The show depicts her struggling with letting the babies go, but ultimately the choice to gestate and birth her brother’s kids is portrayed as an admirable self-sacrifice. Undoubtedly, this storyline helped to dispel much of any remaining natural opposition to the idea of being pregnant with the genetic children of another couple.
It should come as no surprise then that some seventeen years later Yahoo is featuring a series celebrating the many ways families are formed today. One article in the series retells the story of Finnean Lee who was born into the world courtesy of the oldest woman ever to give birth in Illinois—his own grandmother.
A 2012 article headline was direct: “Woman Gives Birth to Own Grandson.” The more recent article explains the “painful and traumatic time” during which Sara Connell and her husband Bill endured 6 failed IVF cycles, the stillbirth of twins, and a miscarriage. This eventually led them to accept Sara’s mother’s “extraordinary offer” to gestate and birth her own grandchild.
Anyone who has faced the cross of infertility, endured a miscarriage, or suffered through a stillbirth knows first-hand the kind of suffering endured in these most difficult moments of life. Having recently borne one of these crosses, I know the value of compassion, support and prayers offered by loved ones and strangers alike. But I also know how vital it is to respond to the cross we bear in a way that is in accord with human nature, honors marriage, and respects the rights and dignity of children.
The Church is clear—every child conceived is imago dei and is precious in God’s sight. At the same time, the Church rightly identifies specific methods of achieving pregnancy that are immoral, and she calls upon couples to reject these methods. One can be critical of the means chosen while being careful to never attack the person who is the product of the immoral method of achieving pregnancy.
The Church articulates her doctrine about surrogacy most directly in Donum vitae, a 1987 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that responds to contemporary questions about respecting the origin of human life and the dignity of procreation. Like in vitro fertilization, surrogacy is “contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person.” Surrogacy allows another to enter into the marriage covenant—another woman, by plan, carries a husband’s child. Though popular media has dampened it, there is a natural aversion to such proposals as renting a womb, a stranger giving birth to a child that is not her own, and a grandmother giving birth to the children of her son-in-law. A child has a natural right to be conceived through an act of love, to be nurtured in the womb by his own mother, and to be birthed by his own mother. Surrogacy offends these basic rights, and deprives him or her of the dignity of being carried, nurtured, and birthed by his own mother.
For this reason, Donum vitae emphasizes, “Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity of the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.”
Surrogacy offends the marital covenant and it treats the body of the surrogate mother as an object of use, and if money is involved, an object to be rented. Such an act is beneath her dignity. And let us not forget that surrogacy requires the creation of a human being in a laboratory and outside of an act of love between husband and wife. In the lab, his creators manifest little concern for the life of each individual human being created, and his status vis-à-vis his laboratory technician creators is that of a product that may be discarded. (In the case of Sara and Bill Connell, a conservative estimate is that at least 50 embryonic human beings died so that Finnean might be born). This—and each of the above ethical concerns—is truly tragic.
While the children who enter the world through surrogacy are precious, and those who choose surrogacy undoubtedly act with the best of intentions, often in the face of great suffering, it does not change the objective truth that such an act is against human nature and divine law and thus cannot be a good act nor lead to the flourishing of those who choose it. In her article, Sara Connell makes a strenuous effort to push away her own natural opposition by covering it with euphemisms and emotional language and does so by adopting phrases such as “act of generosity,” “empowering,” liberated and empowered,” “normalized” and “something to celebrate.” But re-describing an act in glowing terms does not change its nature; it does not change what it is.
Surrogacy crosses numerous lines that should not be breached because this method of “starting a family” fails to honor the marriage covenant and the right of every child to be brought into the world by his or her own mother through an act of love.